Cover & Excerpt
Alex Leksin Book Two
Independent troubleshooter, Alex Leksin, is asked by President Karpev to report on a planned pipeline to take Russian oil through Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Karpev’s strategy is to reduce Russia’s reliance on the West by shifting his country’s vast energy resources to the East. Failure would be catastrophic to his presidency.
Against a backdrop of political corruption, state sponsored terrorism, and increased Taliban insurgency, Leksin’s investigation takes him from Moscow to one of the world's most sinister countries right at the heart of central Asia.
Initially, his inquiries reveal nothing to cause alarm. Yet, wherever Leksin goes, someone tries to kill him; people who may be able to help him are assassinated; and information turns to misinformation.
When at last he discovers the truth, he is no longer sure whom he can trust.
Genre: ThrillerPurchase link(s): Amazon
Content/Theme(s): Intrigue, Russia, Politics, Corruption, Terrorism
Release Date: December 14, 2015
Publisher: Peach Publishing
Excerpt & More
Leksin waited for the sound of Saidov's footsteps in the corridor to fade before looking across at Nikolai.
"Interesting, though I'm not at all sure what he's after," Leksin commented, slipping back into English now the two of them were alone. "Seems like a decent chap, though."
Nikolai looked surprised. "You haven't met him before? Oh yes, he's very affable and charming. I could see you falling for his flattery," he joked. "But don't let that fool you. Underneath lies a real tough nut. There's a rumour from his days at Defence. Some accident at an underground chemical weapons plant in Krasnodar. As soon as Saidov learnt there'd been a leak, he ordered the whole plant permanently sealed. Over two thousand people interred and left to die. A few made it to the surface, but they were immediately shot and their bodies burnt. Saidov, apparently, didn't even break sweat."
Leksin pursed his lips, a sign of admiration or disapproval, and asked: "So what's his power base?"
"Good question, old boy," Nikolai commented. "In practical terms, his main contribution is his close contacts in Central Asia. His mother was Kazakh, and he did much of his education in Almaty. Karpev, as you know, has always been paranoid about what he regards as Russia's soft southern underbelly – all the more so with the spread of ISIS - and he relies on Saidov to keep an eye on things down there." Nikolai paused, gave a little chuckle as he led the way into the corridor. "And of course he kept the seat warm for Karpev when he stood down temporarily. Karpev definitely owes him one for that."
"This way," Nikolai told Leksin as they came out of the lift on the ground floor. "I told my driver to meet us at the rear entrance."
Leksin followed Nikolai along a wide, discreetly-lit corridor that led away from Cathedral Square towards a central lobby. As they crossed the lobby, their footsteps on the marble floor echoed in the silence under the high ceiling. Continuing towards the exit, Nikolai suddenly slowed down and, without knocking, opened the door to one of the offices and ushered Leksin in.
"What's going—?" Leksin stopped in mid-sentence as he recognised the tall, blond-haired figure in a dinner jacket who stood the far side of the large mahogany table that swamped the small room.
President Karpev pointed to a chair. "Sit down, Leksin. I've only got a few minutes."
Leksin sat down, concealing his surprise at a turn of events he hadn't anticipated. As his eyes lifted to the President's face, he caught the knowing look and barely perceptible nod that Karpev exchanged with Nikolai.
"So what's Saidov said?" Karpev demanded, pulling up a chair.
"About the pipeline?" Leksin questioned, testing the ground.
"No, about your role," Karpev corrected him. "I assume he told you to do fuck all, just go through the motions and give the project your blessing. Perhaps not in so many words, but . . . " - starting to mimic Saidov's voice - " . . . something to silence the doubters. Is that right?"
Leksin nodded, non-committally. The phrase was spot on, almost as if Karpev had been listening in.
"Well, let me make one thing quite clear," Karpev began, raising his forefinger in warning. "That's exactly what I don't want, do you understand?"
Leksin threw a glance towards Nikolai, searching for guidance. Whatever was going on here, there was an undertone he didn't as yet fully comprehend. What exactly was the message Karpev wanted to convey? Did he have reservations about the pipeline? Was he looking for an excuse to abort the deal? It seemed to Leksin that he might have walked headlong into a turf war between the Russian President and his Prime Minister and, if so, this was neither a comfortable, nor a safe, place to be.
"Don't get me wrong," Karpev continued, aware of his predicament. "I'm every bit as keen as Saidov on expanding the market for our oil eastwards, and for all the same reasons. We have to reduce our reliance on the West, so that we can take the next step."
"Next step?" Leksin asked, seeking further clarification. Was this where the conversation was leading?
Karpev nodded and crisply outlined his agenda, his face hard with determination. "Ukraine was just the tip of the iceberg, Leksin. With that behind us, my focus is turning towards other former Soviet States, particularly those around the Baltic. If we're truly going to reassert ourselves as a world power - and dominate - then we have to re-establish our hold on these territories. But before I make my move, we have to find new markets for our energy, so that when the storm comes - and believe me, the storm will come - the West's in no position to hold us up to ransom."
"Which makes this pipeline deal a perfect fit," Leksin prompted.
"But?" Leksin asked, figuring this was where he came in.
"But something smells." Karpev leant forwards, and his harsh voice lowered to a conspiratorial tone. "The three key movers in the pipeline deal are Max Usenko from Chestny Kombinat, the Turkmen and the Afghans. Personally I wouldn't deal with any of them if they were the last people on earth. They're all utter shits. The three of them combined . . . well, God knows what we're letting ourselves in for. The whole idea gives me nightmares."
"But Saidov himself has been involved from the outset," Leksin pointed out. "Surely you can take comfort from that?"
"Hell no!" Karpev retorted firmly. "If anything, that just adds to the problem. The man's staked his reputation on this pipeline deal, he's completely incapable of looking at it objectively." Standing up, Karpev started to pace the room. "Look, Leksin, let me be perfectly honest with you. I don't have to tell you, Russia's currently a pariah throughout the world. Crimea, Ukraine, the Malaysian jet, our support of Assad, you name it, we're damned for it. Under normal circumstances, of course, I couldn't give a shit for world opinion. You couldn't ask for a more gutless bunch of losers than the present rabble of Western leaders. They're all empty threats and chit-chat " - Karpev clicked his fingers repeatedly against his thumb " - and they can't agree a bloody thing. Look at the way they’ve dithered about Syria. No, it's not their sanctions that are hitting our economy, in themselves they're just a minor irritant. It's the sudden crash in the oil price that's screwing us."
"But these are not normal times?" Leksin prompted.
"Too damned right, they're not - or, more accurately, they soon won't be. We may not currently be in the middle of a new Cold War, despite Gorbachev's unhelpful claims to the contrary. But think about it. Once I make my move in the Baltic, we bloody well will be - there's going to be hell to pay. In the run-up to that, I can't afford to pick another fight, at any rate not until we're properly prepared. Do you get where I'm going, Leksin?"
Leksin nodded. "You need some space to minimise the inevitable fallout once you start to implement your planned expansion," he said, careful to keep any note of recrimination from his tone. Karpev's expansion was a dangerous, egotistical strategy, but Leksin's job depended on him remaining neutral in such situations. "In particular, the whole of Central Asia's a powder keg, and the last thing you need at present is a crisis down there that sets it off. The pipeline deal has to be completely above board."
"Too damned right it does. There can be nothing whatsoever there that's going to come back and bite us in the arse." Karpev paused in front of Leksin and fixed him in his glare. "I'm relying on you to tell me whether it's safe to proceed. You're the backstop."
Leksin ran his fingers through his thick, brown hair, brushing it back in a series of short, sharp movements, allowing himself time to work through the implications of what Karpev had just told him. Then, standing up, he faced the President.
"I have to ask the obvious," he said. "The deal's been in the making for the best part of two years. Why wait until now to check it out?"
"Circumstances change," Karpev replied cryptically, without elaboration. A guarded glance at Nikolai, then he added: "Presumably Saidov told you the FSB agent we sent down to Turkmenistan to investigate went AWOL twenty-four hours ago?"
Leksin blinked at this new information. No, no one had thought to mention this. So he wasn't the first. Another surprise - as always, the best news left to last . . . A dangerous place for an outsider - was this what Saidov had meant?
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